This easy, no-bake recipe makes a nice salad or appetizer and is very adaptable to your personal preferences. I first prepared it in an attempt to get my Significant Other to eat more veggies. I had moderate success, which, considering my SO's hatred for all things veggie, was really quite an accomplishment.
The amounts listed below are about right for 4 to 6 people, if you like strongly seasoned food; please taste as you go and tweak to your liking.
One warning: If the Belgian endive in your local grocery is flaccid and nasty, try this recipe another time. You need fresh endive to make it work. Marginally wilted endive might be perked up by the ice-water bath, but when in doubt, don't try it. The mild crunch of fresh endive is important to the mouth feel of this dish.
- One head of Belgian endive for every one to two guests, depending on how hearty you intend the salad to be. By Belgian endive, I mean the vegetable described on this page of the Cook's Thesaurus; it is also known as chicory. Normally it is green, but since it is grown in total darkness, it turns white.
- Two 8 ounce packages of your favorite spreadable soft cheese, such as Boursin. Bring it to room temperature and mash it up quite well with a fork. (You may wind up with leftover cheese; start with one package and hold the second in reserve, just in case.)
- One teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper; more or less to your taste.
- A tablespoon of black sesame seeds (optional), plus a bit more for garnish (optional).
- Waxed paper or tinfoil. (Okay, so that's a material, not an ingredient.)
This salad is best prepared the night before or early on the same day you intend to serve it. At the very least, it needs to chill in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours to set up.
Fill a large bowl full of ice water and submerge the endive in it. Let it rest while you prepare other things.
If you will be using the black sesame seeds, toast them first. This means putting the seeds into a cold frying pan (no oil, please), and turning the heat up to medium-low. Let it go a couple of minutes, or until you can smell the seeds, or until the seeds start to "pop". Whichever comes first, immediately take the seeds off the heat and scrape/shake them out into a small dish (to get them away from the hot pan.) Be careful to stay in the vicinity of the pan while you are toasting the seeds, as they can scorch easily.
Crack your black pepper and put it into another small dish.
With a fork in a smallish bowl, blend the cheese with black pepper and sesame seeds. Add the seasonings a little at a time until you are satisfied with the taste.
Come back to your endives. Shake them a bit under water, change the water, and soak again. While you're at it, pull off any sorry-looking outer leaves. Once you're satisfied the rinse water is coming off clean, dump out all that water, then gently shake the endives dry in a colander. Slice off the exposed bases of the endives cleanly.
Working one head of endive at a time, pull it apart, leaf by leaf. Set the leaves down on a kitchen towel (to soak up any last moisture) in the order that you pulled them off -- largest to smallest. If you wind up with a stubby little no-leaf base at the end of plucking, throw that out or compost it.
Starting with the second-smallest leaf, spread the inside surface of the leaf with the cheese and spice mixture -- maybe 1/4 inch or a 2-3 millimeters' worth. Set the leaf down on a clean surface. Press the smallest leaf into its hollow. Spread the next largest leaf's inside surface with cheese spread, and place it on the center you've created. Repeat with the next largest-leaf, and so forth.
Your goal is to reconstruct the endive head, putting a layer of the flavored and seasoned cheese in between each leaf as you go. As you rebuild the head, rotate the placement of the leaves so that they overlap and resemble the natural structure of the endive head; this will produce a very pretty pattern once you have sliced it up.
Rinse and repeat: Do each endive head that way. Wrap each head in wax paper or tinfoil (twist the ends to make it stay put), and let them rest in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. Overnight is better, but do make sure the heads are wrapped tightly (or put them in a ziploc bag, too) lest they absorb other odors from the fridge.
Remove endive heads from the refrigerator just before serving. Unwrap the covering. Rinse a sharp knife under very cold water, shake (carefully!) or wipe the knife dry, and cut each head crosswise into 1/4 to 1/3-inch (approx. 3-5 cm) slices. Fan the slices out into an overlapping, decorative arc on individual, chilled salad plates. Scatter a few sesame seeds over the top for garnish if you wish. (Or, if you're not a black-and-white wimp, some scallions sliced on the bias would be nice for color and visual "pop".)
This salad can be eaten with fingers among good friends, but otherwise you should at least offer a fork.
I got the idea for this recipe from one of Sara Moulton's shows on Food TV Network. I unsuccessfully tried to find her recipe by searching their archive. What I wrote here was from a memory of the show (vague) and having made it once, but I didn't write down what I did, sadly. I do recall that she did not use sesame seeds.